Is Multitasking Really A Good Thing?

We are always told that multitasking is the way forward and that it is a hugely useful skill. But is that true? Well, we tried to find out.

It’s not unusual to see someone driving and talking on the mobile phone. Scientists have been in agreement that women have a much better memory and easily surpass men at social cognition and interaction. 

This superior natural prowess that women possess is said to make them better at multitasking. On the other hand most men prefer to focus only on one thing at a time. 

The next time you’re in a group observe that when the phone rings a man will walk away and once he’s found his quiet spot he’ll answer the phone. A woman will most likely just pick up the phone and talk comfortably unless it’s a private matter.

The most common examples of multitasking I can think of are talking on the phone and waving a hello to someone, sending messages from your smartphone surreptitiously while in a meeting, cooking more than one dish at a time, exercising while listening to music or watching the television, reading while eating and similar. Harmless enough.

There are also professions where multitasking is an essential skill. An air traffic controller constantly observes traffic patterns while directing aircraft. A school bus driver keeps a watch over kids while driving. 

A stock trader watches several stocks while actively trading. Doctors attend to multiple patients in emergency rooms. 

Doctors enter data into their computers during consultation. This one especially, is it an essential skill? Studies show that while we are multitasking our focus can often get impaired. 


Efficiency and Multitasking

This particular publication from the American Psychological Association says multitasking Undermines Our Efficiency. 

It further goes on to say “Drawing from their research and previous studies, Rubinstein, Meyer and Evans propose a new model for executive mental control in which the brain must make two separate preparatory decisions to switch tasks. 

“The first, called goal shifting, involves choosing to switch to a new task. The second, rule activation, requires the brain to turn off the cognitive rules of the old task and turn on the cognitive rules of the new task.”


More Studies

There are more studies that are not in favour of multitasking. This particular paper from Stanford University is thought-provoking in the substantiality that it states heavy multitaskers have reduced memory. 

This aspect of the paper particularly caught my attention “The paper, co-authored with neuroscientist Melina Uncapher of the University of California, San Francisco, summaries a decade’s worth of research on the relationship between media multitasking and various domains of cognition, including working memory and attention. 

“In doing that analysis, Wagner noticed a trend emerging in the literature: People who frequently use many types of media at once, or heavy media multitaskers, performed significantly worse on simple memory tasks.”

There are other studies, also from highly reputed universities that go on to say multitasking can cause lowering of IQ and affects the efficiency of our brain.


Work and Multitasking

Employees in particular are often under pressure to multitask. Here, the bosses must be considerate and not overload the staff. The employees on their own must fix priorities, discuss these with the person they report to.

As for those who must multitask such as air traffic controllers, school bus drivers, stock traders and so on, the best way to keep one’s stability is to find that time to unwind every now and again.

From multitasking to office tasks, are you ready for your return to work?

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